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Culture Books




Dissent and diversity

Troublemakers of the world, unite

Charlan Nemeth’s In Defense of Troublemakers (Basic, 2018) makes a good point—hearing diverse perspectives makes for better decisions—and makes it again and again, turning what would be a good article into a repetitive book that will have readers at first nodding, and then nodding off to sleep.

Those who keep reading, though, will get to a crucial point: An organization “might want people who vary in age, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. … There is little evidence that it will improve performance or decision-making by itself.” To get concrete: A liberal college, newsroom, workplace, or board of directors probably will benefit by having racial and ethnic minority representation, but if the chosen members of those minorities also have liberal beliefs, their presence probably will not improve the quality of education, stories, products, or decisions.

Organizations may continue to define “diversity” in the conventional way, but Nemeth notes that one model company “searches for diversity of skill and knowledge rather than readily observable demographics,” and implies that others should do likewise. Bottom line: “The value is found in the persistent expression of a differing view, which stimulates thought about the decision at hand. … The real engine for good decision-making is dissent.” 

Nemeth notes that having someone play “devil’s advocate” is insufficient: The goal of such an exercise “is to get people to consider the downsides as well as the upsides of their preferred position. It appears to do the reverse. Those facing a devil’s advocate seem to be convincing themselves that they were right all along. By contrast, authentic dissent fostered the balance between the pros and cons of a position.”

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Four books on worship

The Worship Pastor 

Zac Hicks

Those who choose songs and lead public worship in singing and prayer aren’t just musicians. They are pastors, because leading people in public worship is by definition a pastoral task, insists Zac Hicks (an Anglican worship pastor). He describes the ministry of leading in prayer and song from 17 helpfully imaginative perspectives: Worship pastors, he writes, are corporate mystics, missionaries, theological dieticians, morticians—and failures who need Christ. Hicks’ insights are valuable not only for worship leaders but for teaching pastors and pew-sitters. 

Old Paths, New Power 

Daniel Henderson

The apostles devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Henderson pleads with today’s church leaders to do the same. Leaders must develop a prayer culture by praying together and applying “relentless pressure over time” (more crockpot than microwave) to the congregation. Old Paths includes profiles of pastors who gave themselves to prayer and taught their churches to pray, and it trumpets the truth that “the Holy Spirit is the ‘how to.’” Anecdotes and exegesis alike confirm that the church needs fewer leadership books and more praying, preaching pastors like the apostles.

Worship in the Way of the Cross 

John Frederick

Frederick has a thing for adjectives, deploying headings like “The ecclesio-pneumatic ideation of Jesus Christ.” But if you can overlook the prose, his ideas are profound. In worship, he says, we meet with God, in and with our fellow saints, and are thereby transformed into the likeness of Jesus. In other words, worship is not primarily education, encouragement, or entertainment (“cover gigs for God … in a Top 40 Christified Karaoke Chapel”). Instead, it’s the time when we encounter Christ through word, song, and sacrament, as the Spirit leads us to the Son through God’s church.

Reformation Worship 

Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey

Gibson and Earngey trace the history of worship through the Biblical narrative and the Reformation period. Though Reformation worship varied from place to place, they discern a common focus on word and sacrament, and a common attitude of seriousness and reverence. Their purpose is not to suggest the church return to the 1500s, but rather to show her age. As heirs of six millennia of worship, those who lead a congregation must conduct a beautiful service to glorify a beautiful Savior. The book includes 26 Reformation-era liturgies, each with an essential-background introduction.

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Death and dying

A look at end-of-life books

Joni Eareckson Tada’s When Is It Right to Die? (Zondervan, 2018) updates her useful book from 1992. She explains again the problems with “right-to-die” laws, which have gained momentum, and shows why advance care directives are better than living wills. Spoiler alert: In such situations, trust a person who loves you rather than a piece of paper that gives power to the doctor in charge.

Paul Williamson’s Death and the Afterlife (IVP, 2018) includes scholarly summaries of the Biblical understanding of death and sub-Biblical ones, of resurrection and judgment, and of hell and heaven. His conclusion: The traditional evangelical understanding of death and the afterlife has solid exegetical support. Timothy Sisemore’s Finding God While Facing Death (Christian Focus, 2017) has pastorally and personally useful chapters on loved ones dying, mourning a child’s death, and facing our own.

Departing in Peace by Bill Davis (P&R, 2017) is a good, practical guide to (as the subtitle states) Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life. The Elephant in the Brain, by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson (Oxford, 2018), includes unsurprising material about hidden motives in everyday life, but the chapter on medicine includes interesting research on how much of our spending on health doesn’t make us live any longer: Much of the expenditure merely signals that we care about others, and ourselves. Going back 15 years, Allen Verhey’s Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine (Eerdmans, 2003) is still timely.

Secularists often ask why the good die young, and sometimes very young. Daniel Hallock’s Six Months to Live: Learning from a Young Man with Cancer (Plough, 2015) is a good book to give those facing a death sentence. At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (Plough, 2017) shows how a 24- and 21-year-old brother and sister at the University of Munich resisted Hitler and were quickly arrested and executed. Standing Athwart a Culture of Death, edited by Kathryn Lopez (National Review Institute, 2018), collects 31 good pro-life articles published by National Review over the past 45 years.

Linda Greenhouse sent monthly checks to Planned Parenthood as she covered and praised in The New York Times a pro-abortion Supreme Court. She writes in Just a Journalist (Harvard University Press, 2017), “It was important to me to write a check every month and sign my name. It was the signature of a citizen. The stories that appeared under my byline, on abortion and all other subjects, were the work of a journalist.” Hmm … can anyone spot the worldview in this sentence: “The safety of an abortion is a documented fact”?

Greenhouse not only denies in her book the humanity of unborn children, but the humanity of her many pro-life critics: “If anyone ever thought [her stories] failed to measure up to professional standards, they never told me or anyone else.” Maybe “anyone” only refers to other liberal journalists: Pro-lifers for years pointed out her bias.

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